The U.N. report said, "The eyewitness, who stated to have been on the roof, said to have heard a helicopter and the 'very loud' sound of a falling barrel. Some interviewees had referred to a distinct whistling sound of barrels that contain chlorine as they fall. The witness statement could not be corroborated with any further information."
As in other cases that were investigated, the U.N. team demanded that the Syrian government provide flight records to support its denial that any of its aircraft were in the air in that vicinity at the time of the attack.
"The Government of the Syrian Arab Republic stated that no military activities were conducted from land or air in Al-Tamanah on the dates of the incidents, but did not provide any records of flight operations to support this statement," the U.N. report said.
In the Al-Tamanah case, the U.N. team judged the evidence insufficient to reach a firm judgment regarding who was responsible. However, in two other cases, in Talmenes in April 2014 and Sarmin in March 2015, the U.N. team accused the Syrian military of dropping chlorine-infused "barrel bombs."
Yet, regarding all eight cases that were examined, the U.N. team acknowledged significant limitations on its ability to investigate.
The report said, "As was the case with the Fact-Finding missions, the lack of access to the locations under investigation due to the dire security situation on the ground affected the manner in which the Mechanism [a committee from the U.N. and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons] was able to conduct its investigation.
"Visits to certain locations would have facilitated the ability of the Mechanism to (a) confirm and access specific locations of interest; (b) collect comparative environmental samples; (c) identify new witnesses; and (d) physically evaluate the material of interest to the Mechanism (e.g., remnants).
"Other challenges and constraints include the following factors: (a) the time period that had elapsed since the incident (i.e., in some cases, more than two years since the incident); (b) the lack of chain of custody for some of the material received; (c) the source of information and material was of secondary or tertiary nature; (d) some of the information material, including those depicting the size and nature of the incident, were misleading; (e) finding independent sources of information that could provide access to individuals and information material proved difficult; and (f) the impact locations were not preserved and were compromised by the time they were recorded (e.g., the videos and photographs of the impact locations were taken days after the incident and in many cases after the remnants had been removed from the impact location)."
In other words, the U.N./OPCW investigation was compromised by its inability to conduct an effective on-the-ground assessment and was forced to rely on witnesses who were often allied with the rebel forces or sympathetic to the political opposition to President Assad.
This problem is reminiscent of what happened inside the U.S. Intelligence Community in the run-up to the U.S. invasion of Iraq when some 18 witnesses -- supposedly "defectors" from Saddam Hussein's regime -- became "walk-ins" who presented claims about the Iraqi government's supposed weapons of mass destruction.
CIA analysts debunked some of these bogus claims and traced some of the deceit to the machinations of the pro-invasion Iraqi National Congress (INC), but -- given the political-and-media hatred of Saddam Hussein -- the CIA analysts were under intense pressure to accept some of the dubious accounts that were then incorporated into U.S. intelligence products and used to justify a war under false pretenses.
As with Iraq -- where the U.S. government had helped fund anti-regime groups such as the INC -- a similar situation exists inside Syria where U.S. officials have assisted the "opposition" in organizing politically and mastering propaganda skills. So, the means and opportunity for depicting regime "atrocities" through social media are there, along with the motive.
These activists -- as well as the radical jihadists and other armed rebels -- have become increasingly desperate to induce the United States to intervene militarily against the Syrian army and thus make their desired "regime change" possible.
Obama's Red Line
The emphasis on creating a chemical weapons casus belli increased when President Barack Obama set the Syrian government's possible use of such weapons as a "red line" that might cause him to intervene directly with U.S. forces.
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